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Wisconsin football recruiting: in-state high school pipelines since 2000

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A deeper look at which in-state high schools have produced the most Badgers since 2000.

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With Wisconsin high school football restarting in many parts of the state, a lot of prep athletes are playing the fall in the hopes of earning an opportunity to play football collegiality in the future.

The Wisconsin Badgers have done an excellent job in the past few decades building a fence around the state, ensuring that the best football players stay home to wear cardinal and white on Saturdays.

For many in-state players the chance to play at the University of Wisconsin is a lifelong dream. Whether that aspiration is realized with a full scholarship or as a preferred walk-on, has a great deal to do with talent, size, character and of course work.

However, one aspect that is oftentimes overlooked is the connection between a player’s high school and the university. There are specific high schools across the state that have established a habit of sending their top athletes to Madison.

In fact, since 2000 the Badgers have had players from a whopping 152 high schools from around the state as part of the program, nearly 30% of all 513 high schools that participate in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.

All things considered those 152 in-state schools have accounted for 321 football players, 123 of which were on scholarship entering college, and 198 players who came to Wisconsin as walk-ons originally.

Of those 152 high schools, 74 schools from the area produced more than one player during the same time span, and 16 schools sent five or more players to Madison.

While there are seven divisions (not including eight-man football) within the state that attempt to account for the varying enrollment levels, players have been recruited to become Badgers from all sizes of schools. This includes the uber-large programs with well over 2,000 students to draw from, all the way down to the extremely small with under 100 students enrolled for the 2020-201 school year.

Without further ado, let’s look at the top high schools at producing Badgers from within the state.

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Former Middleton Cardinal Nick Toon celebrates a touchdown catch in the Rose Bowl.
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Extra Large Schools (2,000+ enrollment for 2020-2021)

Of the nine high schools that had players go on to play for Wisconsin since 2000 with an enrollment above 2,000 the top school was Arrowhead High School in Hartland.

Arrowhead High School

High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
Arrowhead HS (Heartland) 2106 Extra Large 9 5 4 - Tyler Donovan (2003) - Nick Hayden (2004) - Derek Landisch (2011) - George Panos (2014) - Billy Hirschfield (2014) - Aaron Niay (2001) - Brady Kelliher (2013) - Ricky Finco (2015) - Blake Mielke (2016)

One of the top high schools in terms of facilities, Arrowhead sent nine former athletes to Wisconsin to play football during the time. Five of the athletes on scholarship, and four as walk-ons.

The Badgers have not had nearly the same success with players from Arrowhead of late however, as the three players who became eventual starters (Tyler Donovan, Nick Hayden, and Derek Landisch) all exhausted their eligibility prior to 2016, and there are no current players from the school on the 2020 roster.

Right behind Arrowhead as the second most productive high school for the Badgers is Middleton High School.

Middleton High School

High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
Middleton HS (Middleton) 2250 Extra Large 7 3 4 - Nick Toon (2007) - Ryan Groy (2009) - Kayden Lyles (2017) - Casey Hogan (2003) - Noah Stoltz (2006) - Joe Sibley (2006) - Mitchell Herl (2015)

Middleton is another one of the top high schools in the state, and it’s close proximity to Madison make the school a natural landing spot. All three scholarship athletes from Middleton have gone on to be starters, with Nick Toon and Ryan Groy both going on to the NFL as well. On the current roster Kayden Lyles is the only active member.

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Former Wisconsin fullback Alec Ingold is one of a handful of Bay Port High School graduates to find success in Madison.
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Large Schools (1,500 - 1,999 enrollment for 2020-2021)

There was a three-way tie for the top spot in the large school category, each high school sending five players to Wisconsin. While the overall totals were the same, two of the schools separated themselves from the other given that they produced eventual starters.

Based on graduating four eventual starters, Bay Port High School in Green Bay got the highest honor.

Bay Port High School

High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
Bay Port HS (Green Bay) 1901 Large 5 4 1 - Dan Buenning (2000) - Kenneth DeBuche (2003) - Alec Ingold (2015) - Cole Van Lanen (2016) - Brad Lantange (2003)

Bay Port High School has one of the highest hit rates of any high school from within the state, as if/when Cole Van Lanen gets selected in the NFL Draft, they will have potentially sent four former Badgers off to have NFL opportunities with Dan Buenning, Ken DeBuche, Alec Ingold, and Van Lanen all making it to the league. That is absolutely astounding for one of the top schools in the Green Bay area.

Just a 30 minute drive south from Bay Port, Kimberly High School came in second in the large school subsection.

Kimberly High School

High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
Kimberly HS (Kimberly) 1593 Large 5 3 2 - Danny Vanden Boom (2017) - Logan Bruss (2017) - Boyd Dietzen (2018) - Clinton Heckner (2009) - Bret Verstegen (2015)

Barely edging out Madison East, due to having one firm starter in Logan Bruss since 2000, Kimberly has parlayed their string of winning seasons into a lot of high level players. Three current Badgers hail from Kimberly, and Logan Bruss is a multi-year starter from the school. While they do not have the overwhelming success at churning out starters like Bay Port, they are one of the best programs in the state.

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Joe Thomas of Brookfield Central High School is one of the very best to ever come out of Wisconsin.

Medium/Large (1,000 - 1,499 enrollment for 2020-2021)

There is no high school program across the state that has sent more of their football players to Wisconsin since 2020 than Waunakee High School. The local powerhouse has sent 10 players to Madison, and entrenched itself as one of the premier pipelines for players from the state.

Waunakee High School

High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
Waunakee HS (Waunakee) 1337 Large 10 4 6 - Steve Van de Voort (2002) - Jake Irwin (2010) - Austin Maly (2011) - Leo Musso (2012) - Derek Straus (2011) - Jack Russell (2012) - Troy Laufenberg (2015) - Tyler Mais (2017) - Blake Smithback (2017) - Nate Carter (2018)

While Waunakee is consistently one of the best teams in the state, the Warriors have had mixed results at Wisconsin. Leo Musso and Jack Russell are the two biggest contributors out of the high school due northwest of Madison, resulting in a much lower hit rate than some of the other schools in the medium/large subsection.

Another school that has done an amazing job at preparing players to become Badgers is Brookfield Central.

Located a little over an hour east of Madison, Brookfield Central has yielded eight former Badgers.

Brookfield Central High School

High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
Brookfield Central HS (Brookfield) 1242 Medium/Large 8 5 3 - Joe Thomas (2003) - Brad Nortman (2008) - Bryce Gilbert (2010) - Jeff Lewis (2010) - Chikwe Obasih (2013) - Steven Johnson (2003) - Ben Strickland (2004) - Rob Korslin (2007)

Central has been extremely kind to Wisconsin, providing three extremely high caliber starters, and a special teams ace in Ben Strickland. Joe Thomas is known as one of the best offensive lineman in the history of the sport, and one of Wisconsin’s greatest ambassadors for their offensive line tradition. Brad Nortman had a six year run in the NFL as a punter, and also delivered one of the biggest fake punts in program history.

All in all, Brookfield Central appears to be one of the biggest bright spots for the Badgers to turn to for talent, even though there are no current players from the high school.

Just missing the cut behind Waunakee and Brookfield Central were Homestead High School and Kenosha Bradford, home to Melvin Gordon.

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Former Marquette University High Schooler Dare Ogunbowale races for the first down against Western Michigan.
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Medium (999 - 600 enrollment for 2020-2021)

Another strong band of schools, there were a lot of good high school programs vying for the prominent No. 1 spot, but in the end two schools with six players apiece earned the highest marks.

The most productive medium sized school turned out to be Marquette University High School.

Marquette University High School

High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
Marquette University HS (Milwaukee) 956 Medium 6 2 4 - Michael Trotter (2010) - Conor Sheehy (2014) - Marcus Trotter (2010) - Dare Ogunbowale (2013) - Riley Nowakowski (2020) - Sean Timmis (2020)

Aided by two newcomers on the roster to bolster their numbers, Marquette High School has provided some really talented players in the past for the Badgers, including a pair of former walk-ons turned starters in Marcus Trotter and Dare Ogunbowale.

Conor Sheehy was a reliable starter for Wisconsin along the defensive line as well, giving the school a very positive trend for players panning out. Given the high number of high quality players, they won out over the other schools in consideration.

Just behind them, Kettle Moraine High School followed suit with six players of their own.

Kettle Moraine High School

High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
Kettle Moraine HS (Kettle Moraine) 927 Medium 6 1 5 - Trey Wedig (2020) - Jordan Bergmann (2008) - Jake Rademacher (2012) - Ian Dretzka (2015) - Sam Delany (2017) - Blake Wilcox (2019)

A bevy of walk-ons were the primary reason for Kettle Moraine’s appearance on this list, with incoming four-star freshman offensive lineman Trey Wedig earning the only scholarship out of the bunch. Overall, Kettle Moraine has been a pretty active spot for Wisconsin, but with the jury still out on Wedig it doesn’t bring the goods compared to Marquette.

Just missing the cut behind Kettle Moraine with five players were much smaller Delevan-Darien High School which has also been involved with five walk-ons. Of note, Stoughton High School also came in with five players, and leads all high schools with four currently active players on the roster.

Small (599 - 300 enrollment for 2020-2021)

In the small school division, a pair of private schools reigned supreme, each tallying six players from their alma maters.

At the top of the heap however, was Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha.

Catholic Memorial High School

High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
Catholic Memorial HS (Waukesha) 589 Small 6 5 1 - Mike Kleber (2001) - Patrick Butrym (2007) - Matt Hubley (2013) - CJ Goetz (2018) - Cole Dakovich (2020) - Ben Landgraf (2005)

A consistent presence in the private school ranks, Catholic Memorial has steadily had a player on the roster for the better part of the past two decades, including two current players. Patrick Butrym was a former starter for the Badgers, and the impact that C.J. Goetz and Cole Dakovich may have in the future is still up in the air. For Goetz significant playing time could come as soon as this upcoming season.

Overall, Catholic Memorial is on the higher end of the division in terms of enrollment, giving them a slight leg up on some of the other schools.

Up second in the small class is Edgewood High School.

Edgewood High School

High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
Edgewood HS (Madison) 485 Small 6 1 5 - Jason Palermo (2001) - Clint Cosgrove (2001) - Craig Meier (2004) - Evan Bondoc (2015) - Jack Dunn (2016) - Bobby Dunn (2016)

Just down Monroe street from Camp Randall, six total players have made the quick jaunt over to become Badgers. While the overall caliber of player has not been as high as some other schools, it’s raw numbers give them the edge.

After Catholic Memorial and Edgewood, no other school in the small category had more than two players from their high school. For the sake of recognition though, Amherst High School’s run with both Garrett Groshek and Tyler Biadasz gives them a shout out as next best.

Extra small (299 & below enrollment for 2020-2021)

Representing the smallest schools in the state, no one has made more out of less students than Fennimore High School. Outside of producing B5Q’s very own Tyler Hunt, they also brought two-year starter Luke Swan to Madison.

Fennimore High School

High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
Fennimore HS (Fennimore) 234 Extra Small 3 1 2 - Luke Swan (2003) - Tyrell Rosenmeyer (2008) - Logan O'Brien (2019)

With a two-way tie between Fennimore and the second honoree, the Luke Swan effect when paired with Tyler, and me knowing Tyrell personally as well, the final pick was easy to make. Fennimore has a mere 234 students enrolled this year, making the fact that they have sent more players to Wisconsin than local suburb Sun Prairie, and that is pretty incredible.

Just missing out was Saint Mary’s Springs High School in Fond Du Lac.

Saint Mary’s Springs Academy

High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
High School (City) School Enrollment (2020-2021) Size Total Number of Players # of Scholarship Players # of walk-ons Scholarship Players Walk-ons
Saint Mary's Springs Academy (Fond Du Lac) 293 Extra Small 3 1 2 - Eric Steffes (2011) - Matt Austin (2014) - Zach Hintze (2016)

An absolute juggernaut at the prep level, they seemingly don’t lose. State championships seem to just continue to add up in Fond Du Lac, but the recent success has more importantly led to three former Badgers.

Eric Steffes was a solid rotational player at tight end for Wisconsin, while the booming leg of Zach Hintze was also vital to the teams success the past few seasons. A commitment from four-star 2022 recruit Billy Schrauth would likely jump them up to top dog status at the extra small level.